The Mindful Bard – Kind of Blue

Blues Prescriptions for a Poet’s Healing

Album: Kind of Blue
Artists: Miles Davis, with Bill Evans, Jimmy Cobb, Paul Chambers, John Coltrane, and Julian “Cannonball” Adderley

“I think a movement in jazz is beginning away from the conventional string of chords . . . there will be fewer chords but infinite possibilities as to what to do with them.”
– Miles Davis in an interview with Nat Hentoff in The Jazz Review, 1958

“You have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.”
– Miles Davis

The above quote would be a battle cry for artistic integrity, were it not so subtle. To paraphrase, You’re slogging away for days, weeks, months, and years?not only to create good stuff?but also to become better at creating good stuff, and shouldn’t be focussed on what other people do or have done; it should have as its goal the creation of things that only you can create.

This is precisely what Davis accomplished with Kind of Blue, a landmark jazz album that ushered in a new, more thoughtful, more minimalist, more modal, less dance-oriented style of post bebop that many claim lead to the demise of true jazz, which is true if your definition of jazz puts danceability at its essence. Obviously there are many who don’t define it as such, because Kind of Blue is one of the top-selling jazz albums of all time.

When I used to work at the campus radio station I heard a very intelligent programmer remark that he hadn’t yet developed the musical sophistication to be able to appreciate jazz. I sympathised, because at that time I couldn’t listen to a lot of jazz myself, even though I’d grown up with my parents? jazz albums and Joni Mitchel’s divine experiments.

Since then I’ve grown a lot older and a little wiser and have discovered that anyone, anywhere can develop a liking for jazz by starting with that part of all of jazz (Wynton Marsalis’s term) that immediately strikes their fancy. The jazz genre is so vast and multi-faceted, spanning ragtime, tinpan alley, Dixieland, big band, bebop, cool jazz, free jazz, fusion, and everything in between, and now includes world jazz?those unique and vibrant versions of jazz developed in countries outside the USA.

For many people, Kind of Blue was this kind of first introduction to jazz and the album that turned them into jazz lovers. It was also tremendously influential for composers of jazz, classical, and rock music, and it remains so. But this album won’t appeal to everyone. Listening to it requires almost the same thoughtful condition that went into its creation.

But back to our modus operandi: Why should creative people listen to Kind of Blue? Let’s break it down.

“So What” cures that pointless need to rush around accomplishing nothing and feeling crappy about it afterwards. It restores confidence in the inner self without babying the ego. (It also contains the two-note mode on which the rest of the album is based.)

“Freddie Freeloader” injects a shot of humour and fun into staid old prejudices. An antidote to oppression from squares.

“Blue in Green” as sweet and comforting to the afflicted soul as a chocolate orange. Tender, loving, sad, sympathetic, and deliciously lovely.

“All Blues” boosts the mind’s auto-defense system. Listen to this when You’re getting into creation mode. (Some great heart-pumping solos.)

“Flamenco Sketches” is meditation music?the medication you take when you can’t spend time alone beside a forest lake.

Kind of Blue manifests seven of the Mindful Bard’s criteria for music well worth a listen.

– It’s authentic, original, and delightful.
– It stimulates my mind.
– It provides respite from a cruel world, a respite enabling me to renew myself for a return to mindful artistic endeavor.
– It’s about attainment of the true self.
– It inspires an awareness of the sanctity of creation.
– It makes me want to be a better artist.
– It makes me appreciate that life is a complex and rare phenomena, making living a unique opportunity.

Wanda also writes the blog The Mindful Bard:The Care and Feeding of the Creative Self.